Teachers in Virginia have to undergo an educational MOT every five years and if they can't rack up the points they're out, says John Cairney
HE phrase "When America sneezes, Britain gets the cold" was coined to make the point that economic conditions over there were bound to be replicated on this side of the Atlantic sooner or later.
In education, the influence has been more modest. But it is arguable that national testing, exam tables and attendance statistics are transatlantic imports based on accountability, a concept more highly developed in a land where freedom of information and citizens' rights are enshrined in statute.
Now the section in the McCrone agreement that imposes 35 hours a year of continuing professional development takes Scotland along the road American educators have travelled for decades. But teachers here will be hoping that they are not heading for the same destination as their counterparts in some American states.
Scottish teachers will now no doubt pay more heed to the availability of in-service courses providing "an appropriate balance of personal professional development" in order to fulfil the 35-hour requirement, but at least their jobs will not depend on them - yet.
In Virginia, the range of opportunities for teachers resembles those referred to in McCrone, "attendance at national courses, small-scale school-based activities or other CPD activity". The difference is that activities in Virginia are allocated points, of which teachers are required to amass a certain number over five years if they wish to hold on to their jobs.
Here teachers will have to maintain an individual CPD record, but in Virginia they are issued with an individualised renewal record by the state's Division of Education and Licensure (note the last word). The record details the CPD activities carried out. Teachers are responsible for keeping track of the courses and points they accrue over the five years. They then present proof of their CPD to the school principal. Once verified, it goes to the county offices "for review" and then to the state for "licensure"
The points target is 180. This can be achieved in a single award by gaining another degree or college credit. Attendance at professional conferences earns 45 points, as does "educational travel". Publication of an article earns 90 points, the same as for a book, which seems a bit disproportionate.
Two-hour in-service courses on topics such as multiculturalism or multiple intelligence win four points. But as a general rule, a point is earned for every hour of attendance at a course. Most of this is undertaken in the teacher's own time.
One exception is mentoring. An experienced teacher mentoring what we would call a probationer for a whole session accrues 90 points, while a mentor overseeing someone who is new only to the school can earn half that total. The principal determines the points awarded.
In addition to the renewal record, the state is in the process of requiring all "instructional personnel" who hold a Virginia Professional Teaching Certificate to meet new technology standards by 2002-2003. After July 2003, technology competency will become a requirement for "initial licensure and for renewal of licensure".
There are eight standards, ranging from demonstrating effective use of a computer system to "planning and implementing lessons and strategies that integrate technology to meet the diverse needs of learners in a variety of educational settings". One elementary (primary) teacher had to prepare a Powerpoint presentation, create a spreadsheet and a database file and demonstrate effective use of e-mail as part of her competencies.
The CPD demands were "mandated" by the state board of education, which is directly responsible to the state governor. There is no chance of teacher unions being consulted, far less of holding negotiations.
In light of a 2 per cent salary increase offered by one county in northern Virginia this year (teachers had asked for 7 per cent), it could be that some Virginians will be hitting the trail east across the Atlantic.
The General Teaching Council would then be the body to wrestle with their "licensure".